Guinea Pigs

My girlfriend and I want a pet, so I thought I’d return to my childhood by getting a hamster. But she convinced me to try a guinea pig. Apparently, they’re diurnal, friendly, non-biters. But I still have a few questions:

  1. Do they smell? We live in a 3-room, 800 sq ft apartment so it’s not like I can put it in the basement or the wash room.

  2. How much maintainence do they take? The hamster was easy. I just had to dump the wood chips in a trash bag every friday. Food and water too, obviously, but that was trivial.

  3. Do I absolutely have to get 2? All the websites recommend it, but they’re all written by animal-lovers. I’m sure they’d recommend that I get 30 if they thought I’d swallow that. One even went so far as to say “[guinea pigs] can die of loneliness”. I’m preeeetty sure that’s bull, but hey, that’s what you guys are for. We’ve agreed to get females, though, so we don’t have to worry about one killing the other.

  4. Any random advice about selecting a good one, taking care of it, etc?


1&2) Their pee smells similar to a hamster’s, but there’s more of it since they’re bigger, but if you’re cleaning the cage once a week, that will be enough. They’re not really more high maintenance than a hamster, but the cages are of course bigger so more difficult to clean.

  1. It depends - they’re social animals, so if you only get one, be prepared to play with it a lot, unless you want a piggie who’s going to be unsocial, unfriendly, and lonely. They may not DIE of lonliness (I’m not sure that’s bunk, but I don’t know how common it is, either), but they do get lonely. We kept a single one, but he got tons of attention, so he was always happy, but it really depends on how much time you have/are willing to spend with it.

  2. Their whisting/tweeting can be LOUD. We had one that could be heard through the whole house - he learned the sound of the refrigerator opening, and would tweet every time it opened, hoping for treats (veggies). You could hear it across the whole house. It’s an awesome noise, and it can be really funny to see what they respond to, but they’re not mostly-silent animals like most other small pets. And they are diurnal, so they’re up a lot during the day - and the night, so you might not want to keep them near where you sleep.

Eek. In our apartment, everything is where I sleep.

Do you have an actual bedroom, or is it more like a studio, where the bedroom is also the living area?

As long as it’s not actually IN your bedroom, you should be fine. IME, they’re not as loud as hamsters can be at night, since they don’t chew as much, and they do sleep at least part of the night. When ours tweeted/chirped, it was when we were doing something, like getting their food ready, when they were really loud. They don’t “yell” when they’re alone & relaxed.

When we had ours and I would sleep on the couch (which I do when I can’t sleep so I’m not tossing and turning next to my husband), I found their cheeping to be relaxing.

We recently got a couple. Well, I say “we”, actually my wife just brought 'em home one day. heh. I did want them, mind you, I just had intended to wait until the little Torqueling was older. Anyway, on to the advice:

Like I said, we have two, and they’re very different. Minnie is a smooth-coated guinea pig, and she’s much more adventurous. She always wants to run around and explore. Snow White, an abyssinian, is much more placid; she will lie down on your lap and give you cute little licks with her tiny tongue. Think about the sort of attitude you want, and check out your potential pet before you buy.

Non-biting. Well, mostly. Right now I have two bites on my left hand; one happened when we were cutting one pig’s nails, and no doubt she was scared. Can’t blame her much, but DAMN that one hurt, right on the tip of my index finger. The second I got last night, on the side of my thumb. I think my hand smelled like carrots, which I’d just been feeding her, and she got carried away. That one’s very minor. I got both from Minnie.

Like others have said, they’re very social, so put them somewhere you can see them and they can see you. We got a sort of “play yard” for them, a collapsible fence that we can set up to let them run around and play in an area bigger than their cage. It’s good to give them space to run.

Vitamin C is important in their diet, so make sure they get fresh fruit or veggie treats daily. Ours have a fondness for apples, matchstick carrots, red-leaf lettuce, and spinach. They also need hay, in addition to their regular food; timothy hay is recommended, and boy, do they put that stuff away. The fiber keeps their digestive systems humming along smoothly.

Everyone’s talking about the sounds they make; the guinea pig page on Wikipedia has .ogg files of the sounds, so you can hear them for yourself.

  1. Do they smell? Not terribly much. Only if you let their cage go too long between cleanings. We have 3, in a 2x4 foot cage, and it’s rare that it bothers us even in the same room.

  2. How much maintainence do they take? Not a lot. We make sure their pellet bin always has food in it, their water bottles are freshly filled, and we toss them some veggies once or twice a day. Those are all required. They do however like to interact with people (well most of them do - 2 of our current 3 run like hell when I try to pet them). So try to plan on lap time / floor time for them every day - can be while you’re watching TV so it’s not like it’s dedicated can’t-do-anything-else time.

  3. Do I absolutely have to get 2? I’ve never had one die of loneliness! Although having a pair can be nice - they keep each other company - a single pig is fine as long as you pay it some attention.

  4. Any random advice about selecting a good one, taking care of it, etc?

Yeah. Whatever cage they sell you at the pet store as being big enough for 1 pig, it isn’t. They really require more room, unless you are planning on having them out to run around a LOT. has instructions on how to make a very affordable and large cage out of shelving cubes and coroplast (corrugated plastic).

You don’t have to have a cage with a top - guinea pigs don’t climb. Ours are in an open-top cage which makes care and petting a lot easier. If you have a cat / dog of course you’d want to have a top on the cage unless you don’t want to have the poor beastie around very long!

Cage bottom must have a solid bottom, not wire mesh which is very bad for their feet.

Check around to see if there’s a local rescue group; you’ll get good advice, the pig you get will have been vetted by people who know what they’re doing, you’re not going to get a surprise litter after you bring the pet home (some pet stores aren’t perfect about keeping the guys and the gals separate and those critters are fertile VERY young)… in fact some rescue groups only place pigs that have been neutered (which is why we have one boy and 2 girls in one cage… it’s purely platonic). You’ll pay more for a pig from such a group, but we’ve found it to be worth it.

Cage bedding: I’d always used cedar, when I had hamsters as a kid, now that’s considered very bad for small animals. There are other wood shavings (kiln-dried pine, or aspen) which are safer; there’s also a recycled paper product Care Fresh which is great but pricey. If you have access to a washer / dryer in your unit, and are willing to change out the cage every couple of days, a lot of people use fleece fabric in the bottom of the cage (cheaper in the long run than the other stuff, but obviously requires more work).

If you can’t afford a guinea pig, you could get a half-guinea pig. :stuck_out_tongue:

Guinea pigs are definitely social animals and most definitely do better in pairs (as long as there isn’t some personality conflict between the two individual pigs). Sadly, I only have Penny right now (Maggie, her cagemate, died last year), because she’s the last guinea pig I’ll be able to get; my fiance is allergic to them. :frowning:

Honestly, I find guinea pigs wayyyyyyy better than hamsters. I found hamsters to be brain dead and never wanted to sit still for you. Even the brain dead guinea pigs will sit in your lap and be petted (though it can be a challenge to catch them sometimes).

I’ll miss having guinea pigs. I don’t miss having hamsters.

And make sure you always have UNLIMITED fresh (green) hay for them, in addition to their water, pellets and daily fresh vegetables. Yes, they do need them.

Actually, we found that their bedding/food smelled far stronger than their poo/pee did. Timothy hay (one of their favorite noms) is very grassy smelling. I personally would go with rats, as they’re much quieter. We kept their kale in the frig in a Walmart bag, and whenever anyone rustled a plastic bag, they WENT OFF! Very loud squeeing in anticipation of being fed. Ours were very sociable, and we were only nipped when our fingers smelled like food or they were frightened. Even the new mothers let us handle the babies without much anxiety.

Wheek! Wheek! Wheek!
They are vocal little critters, it’s true. Long-lived, too. I got one as a kid at six or seven who died the year after I moved out to go to college (RIP Skippy!). :slight_smile:
I would absolutely and wholeheartedly recommend cavies over hamsters (which are the rodentia spawn of Satan), but I do have a very squidgy spot in my heart for rats, over any other pocket critter.

On caging: use shredded aspen or recycled paper pulp (Carefresh, Yesterday’s News, etc) for bedding for any small animal, absolutely do not use cedar or pine. Caging for guinea pigs can be very simple. I had a friend who built a “cavy condo” using a series of those big Rubbermaid tubs with PVC tubes running between them.

Also, look in the newspaper or online for local hobby breeders (especially kids with 4-H projects, that kind of thing), I generally strongly recommend you never buy a live animal from a pet store or which came from a commercial breeding operation. Home-raised critters are generally healthier, happier, friendlier beasties.

Oh, and the purring sound they make is cartoonishly adorable.

No love for the hamsters, huh? I like hamsters. Unfortunately, they are way, way cuter looking than they should be, considering their temperments. I’ve had some really sweet, friendly ones, but even nice hamsters aren’t typically as friendly as other small pets. Gerbils are amazingly fun to watch, they’re so active and will play with anything. My favorite was watching them re-build their home right after their cage was cleaned. Mine had a system of tunnels in their shavings. They love cardboard, too, to both shred and live in.

Rats are probably my favorite, though - it’s sort of like having tiny dogs, they really are that smart and affectionate.

As for the bedding, if you go with the Carefresh (which I loved for my rats, gerbils, and most recent hamster), don’t be too sticker-shocked at the price. They pack a ton of it in those packages, it fluffs up once you pull it out to use it.

Something else–if you get a chance to see them in person when they’re tiny, do. They’re born fully precocious, and are ridiculously, absurdly cute. On the other hand, our local humane society almost always has a few of them in need of a good home, so that may be a good source, too.

Man, now I want guinea pigs.

But we’re likely moving cross-country in a year, and I’m on a small-pet sabbatical - I already have two cats, and don’t want to move any more animals than I have to.

No love, none. Hate them with a passion, and I hate that so many of them go to homes as pets for little kids, who naturally don’t understand why their adorable, velvety-soft, teentsy, tiny little pet packs a vile temper so black it absorbs light. Plus, they’re nocturnal, solitary little beasties. WTF kind of kid’s pet does that make? :wink:

Nah, rats or cavies are my recommendation, every time. Gerbils are cute and squirrely, but again make better pets for adults than kids, and even at that seem more like “aquarium pets” to me than companionable pets. If hamsters were active like gerbils and gave you something fun to watch, I could see the point… but though they’re cute, they spend daylight hours nested and sleeping, and pretty much only wake up to give you a solid chomp for the impertinence of wanting to give them a cuddle. I figure if they’re not snuggly or companionable, and they’re no fun to watch go about their critter lives, then what’s the point of keeping them? Plus, they stink.
To each their own though ;).

On the companionship thing…

If I get a pair of them, and stock up their food before I leave, can they make it OK from Friday night to Sunday night? I sometimes go back home for the weekends. Should I ask my neighbors to stop in on Saturdays or will they be fine without me for 48 hours?

You really should get two so they can keep each other company. Even if they can survive as a single don’t do it. What kind of life is that for a lonely little piggie?

Considering that you have to get two, the cage should be a minimum of 2’x4’. They’ll grow to be about 8" long and need to have some room to move around.

Piggies are great little pets. They actually seem to enjoy being held, especially if you give them some veggies at the same time. My daughter will cuddle up to hers while watching tv.

Two guinea pigs are fine, but if you don’t want 20 guinea pigs, get two females. Two males are likely to fight, which in addition to injuries, features production of stinky musk). Having a male and female can also be noisy (I leave this to your imagination).

A solo pig or two females won’t make much noise at night, if you’re concerned about being kept awake. Occasionally my pig Eno* would get fascinated by his water bottle and slurp endlessly unless I intervened.

And yes, with adequate water and a food supply the beasts will do fine over a weekend.

*Eno was usually an affable sort, but would sometimes perceive my hand reaching into his cage as an enemy and charge and nip at it. He also learned to shriek loudly when he heard plastic wrap crackling (the sort used to wrap heads of lettuce).

Let’s talk bedding. I’m going with the CareFresh. How long will 23 liters last me? I might have to choose something else if it’ll only last a week! If I tear up the newspaper, will the ink or anything in it hurt the pigs?

My fifth grade class had a guinea pig. I held her in my lap, and she nestled in and made herself very comfortable. It was quite sweet.

I did not know, but quickly learned, that apparently when guinea pigs are very comfortable and relaxed, they feel free to urinate.

Otherwise, said pig was very loving, never bit fingers, and did not seem to consume a considerable quantity of food. But just make sure they have recently relieved themselves before giving them lots of cuddles.